Soft corals and sea fans

Most of the soft corals in trade originate from the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Although soft coral farming is considered to be simple and straightforward70, very few specimens are of cultured origin. American Samoa represents an exception52. Despite high numbers of specimens being traded for use in aquaria, soft corals are not, unlike stony corals, covered under CITES54. No mechanisms other than GMAD exist to monitor quantity, origin and destination of species in trade. GMAD data indicate that a total of 386,849 pieces of live soft coral (according to importers' data) were traded between 1988 and 2002. Based on exporters' data, the quantity of soft corals traded between 1998 and 2003 accounted for 7 per cent of all coral exports (soft and stony).

The United States is the world's largest soft coral importer, receiving 67 per cent (according to importers' data for years 1988-2002 and equivalent to 259,472 live pieces) of the total trade in soft corals. Indonesia appears as the largest exporting country of soft corals.

Based on GMAD importers' data (1988-2002), the most commonly traded soft coral genera worldwide are (ordered by genera most traded): Sarcophyton (leather/mushroom/toadstool coral), Sinularia (finger leather/soft finger/digitate leather coral), Xenia (pulse coral), Cladiella (cauliflower/finger/colt/blushing coral), Clavularia (clove polyp), Anthelia (waving hand polyp), Lobophytum (finger leather coral), Nephthea (broccoli coral), Dendronephthya (carnation/strawberry coral) and Cespitularia (blue xenia).

The trade in leather coral, Sarcophyton spp.

The trade in leather coral, Sarcophyton spp.

Broccoli Coral

Sarcophyton spp. is the most commonly traded soft coral. This mushroom-like zooxanthellatexiii species is hardy, fast growing and easily propagated in aquarium conditions. Under the Sarcophyton genus at least five species are known to be traded as aquarium specimens: S. ehrenbergi, S. glaucum, S. latum, S. tenuispiculatum and S. trocheliophorum. As reported by importers in GMAD these five species made up 17 per cent of the total amount of soft corals traded (importers' data 1988-2002).

Indonesia emerged as the world's major exporter of Sarcophyton spp., supplying 85 per cent of the total global trade in this species (exporters' data 1998-2003). The United States was the world's largest importer, accounting for 64 per cent (according to importers' data) of the total number of soft corals traded.

The trade in carnation coral, Dendronephthya spp.

The trade in carnation coral, Dendronephthya spp.

Soft Coral

Dendronephthya spp. is among the top ten traded soft corals. Species under this genus are extremely difficult to maintain in aquaria as they are azooxanthellate and hence entirely dependent on filtering particles and absorbing dissolved nutrients from the water column. In captivity they usually die within a few weeks. Aquarists are strongly encouraged not to keep Dendronephthya spp. Two species in particular are known to be traded as ornamentals: D. klunzingeriand D. rubeola.

Between 1988 and 2002 a total of 12,618 live pieces of Dendronephthya spp. were traded globally. Worldwide, the United States emerged as the largest importer, accounting for 51 per cent of the total trade in Dendronephthya spp. Indonesia emerged as the biggest exporter of Dendronephthya spp. (20 per cent of all soft coral traded according to importers' data).

Eight genera of sea fans appear in GMAD trade records: Ctenocella, Echinogorgia, Ellisella, Euplexaura, Gorgonia, Lophogorgia, Pseudopterogorgia and Rumphella. The genus Gorgonia is the most well known and commonly traded sea fan (14 per cent or

55,375 pieces according to importers' data 1988-2002), with at least two species often recorded in GMAD: G. flabellum and G. ventalina. US imports accounted for 99 per cent (54,976 pieces) of all imported Gorgonia spp. specimens.

Live rock

Anthelia Waving Hand Coral

Fiji is the world's primary supplier of live rock, with data showing that in 2001 more than 800 tonnes of live rock were harvested from its reefs73, about 95 per cent of which were destined for the United States74. True collection figures are likely to be greater as large quantities of harvested live rock, subsequently considered unsuitable for export, are often discarded and thrown back into the sea. In Fiji, the extraction of live rock takes place along the edges of the reef or within the shallow lagoon. During collection villagers selectively target rocks with a diameter of 15-35 cm45 covered with light to dark pink coralline algae and remove them from the reef framework using iron rods. These are then loaded up onto a bilibili, or bamboo raft, and dragged onto the beach by horses. The rocks are placed into boxes and loaded onto a waiting truck that takes them to a processing facility. Once at the facility, the rock is placed under showers, which continually spray salt water for 24-72 hours before shipment. It is trimmed of all visible green algae growth and graded according to shape, weight and percentage of coralline algae cover.

Live rock trade constitutes an important source of revenue for the inhabitants of Malomalo (one of the most important live rock collection sites in Fiji). Since 1994, live rock has been collected at Malomalo for Ocean 2000, a local wholesaler, by the traditional male users of the reef, both on a full time and an occasional basis. The rock is reimbursed at a price of US$0.70 per kilo, which is divided among the collectors (US$0.50), the custodian (US$0.10) and the marine reserve that forms part of the village's traditional fishing grounds (US$0.10). As this item is bought and sold by weight it is the highest income earner for the villagers participating in the aquarium trade industry. A full-time harvester extracts on average 7,500 kg a year (an average of 150 kg live rock extracted per week) contributing US$3,750 to annual household income.

However, after nine years of extraction, the villagers raised concerns that live rock collection could have detrimental long-term consequences for their reefs. Large-scale removal of live rock, the result of hundreds of years of accretion, can destroy reef habitat, undermining the structure of coral reefs and leading to increased erosion as well as reduced biodiversity. Some fishers noticed that quantities of fish and other marine species typically collected from areas used for collection of live rock had been reduced45. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and MAC joined forces to respond to the villagers' concerns and those expressed by the Fijian government about the sustainability of the industry. They worked to develop community-based processes for wise coral harvesting and management, which also involved helping the government structure sound policies and legislation that would support a sustainable aquarium trade. Moreover, the villagers of Malolomo designated part of their traditional fishing grounds a tabu area, in which extractive use was banned.

The International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN) recently also developed a project with the major objective of ensuring the sustainability of the coral trade industry in Fiji. Should this be achieved, coastal communities (mainly around Viti Levu, where returns often do not reflect the market value of the product) will be able to share fairly the benefits of the marine aquarium trade industry without compromising the health of their reefs.

Source: WWF73 and ICRAN76

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